A guest blog by Marivic M. Awat, RPsy
Kindred Psychologist

In an era of accessibility, convenience has a price. It has become apparent that issues about safety, especially with the children, are compromised. One disturbing and pervasive issue for children is sexual grooming.  A recent study by Wefers et.al in 2024 posits that sexual grooming, especially online, increased significantly during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Resulting in serious harm, sexual grooming is characterized by creating trusting relationships among children, parents, and primary caregivers. It also involves preparing the environment of the victim for the planned abuse

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), grooming can take place whether online or in person, where the groomer’s manipulative behavior makes the victim vulnerable to prolonged, undetected abuse. Groomers tend to isolate their victims, making them powerless and dependent on them, introducing the concepts of shame, blackmail, and secrets. Groomers can be relatives, family friends, teachers, or coaches. Although the usual victims are children, teens and young adults can also be in danger as well, regardless of their gender. It has been posited that grooming takes place in stages.

Stages of grooming

Targeting the child

Perpetrators may choose victims that show vulnerabilities such as lack of parental supervision, problematic households, those seeking emotional connection, and those suffering from isolation and neglect.   

Gaining the child and caregiver’s trust

Perpetrators provide a warm, trusting, and supportive atmosphere for the caregiver to lower their guard and find ways to fulfill the child’s needs Filling a need – perpetrators may use gift and money giving, words of affirmation and compliments, showering attention, and meeting other possible needs of the victim. 

Isolating the child

Tactics such as babysitting, special trips, or one-on-one coaching can be used to have alone time together. The perpetrator may coax the victim and make them feel that no one could understand the child except for them. 

Sexualizing the relationship

The perpetrator may use the victim's natural curiosity to sexualize the relationship such as introducing porn, exploring, kissing, and petting body parts. 

Maintaining control

Perpetrators manipulate the victims to keep their silence often using blame, threats, or showering love on the victim.     

As grooming can take place anywhere, school, communities and families, it is best to identify signs that might be indicative of grooming for children.

Signs of grooming

Excessive secrecy

Children may become secretive about their activities, particularly regarding interactions with a specific individual.

Unexplained gifts

Children may receive gifts, money, or other favors from an adult without a clear explanation.

Changes in behavior

Sudden changes in behavior, such as withdrawal, depression, or aggression, can indicate underlying distress.

Excessive time online

Spending excessive time online, especially in unmonitored chat rooms or social media platforms, can make children more vulnerable to online grooming.

Additionally, groomers also try to condition parents or caregivers into trusting them, gaining control over alone time. Below are signs that might indicate that your child is being targeted:

The perpetrator:

  • Oversteps your social boundaries – For example, they might show up to your child’s birthday party uninvited with a gift
  • Offers to take your child to sports or other activities, or offers to babysit or take your child camping
  • Offers to mentor your child, individually coach your child, and so on
  • Buys gifts for your family
  • Offers to do things for your family, like repairs or gardening
  • Shows an interest in your child’s activities, wellbeing, school grades, or other areas of your child’s life
  • Compliments your family and parenting
  • Tries to start a flirtatious or romantic relationship with you

As grooming can pose as normal relationships between children and adult, it can also be confusing to the victim. Thus, parents should be more vigilant and observant with the interactions of their children.

Parents and caregivers should:

  1. Trust their instincts. If you feel that a situation might not be right, intervene.
  2. Communicate and check in with your child about their activities, thoughts and feelings. Reassure the child that you are there to understand and protect them. 
  3. Ensure that caregivers are trustworthy and immediately stop them from being alone with your children if you are not comfortable. 
  4. Be on guard of your children’s interactions whether online or in-person. 
  5. Educate your child about grooming and groomer’s behavior to empower them in recognizing suspicious behavior. 
  6. Foster a healthy support system within the family, school and communities encouraging children to be more open and comfortable seeking help. 

When abuse has taken place, it is important to listen when a child talks about their experience and let them know that you believe and understand them. Further, parents and caregivers should reassure the child that it is not their fault and reaffirm that they are right in speaking up and seeking help. 

Grooming can have short-term and long-term effects. Victims may have to live with depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress, trust issues, self-blame and the like. Such effects are detrimental to their self-concept and their relationship with others.

The moment you realize that something is off, trust your gut and seek professional help. Kindred offers services such as individual and trauma counseling to process experience, to understand emotions, to manage thoughts and to facilitate moving forward. Let us help you work towards healing.